Question: Last spring we had a family of magpies nesting in our backyard. We could not see into the nest and have since wondered how many eggs there would have been and what they would have looked like.
Answer: A female Australia Magpie lays between two and six eggs in a clutch, but a pair of magpies can usually only raise two chicks on their own. In order to raise more, they need help. For magpie parents, this help comes from their young from the previous year. These older siblings assist with food collection and nest defence. Many species of birds partake in this form of cooperative breeding.
Magpies are slow breeders; they produce one clutch a year and spend about 8 months incubating the eggs and raising the chicks to independence. In contrast, introduced starlings raise up to four clutches a year.
Magpie eggs can be up to 27 x 38 mm in width and length. The egg size is dependent on the size and the health of the mother: if she is in good condition, she will lay large eggs. This in turn affects the survival chances of the young. Babies that hatch from large eggs are larger and therefore more likely to survive and thrive than those from smaller eggs.
Magpie eggs are very variable in colour. They are usually light blue or green, but can also be reddish in colour. A single colour can be spread evenly across the egg or they can be multicoloured and blotchy.
Museum Victoria has an exceptional collection of bird eggs. A majority of these were donated to the museum by Henry Luke White in 1927. H. L. White was an avid collector: his collection contains 4,200 egg clutches and includes examples from almost every bird species in Australia known at the time (including the extinct Paradise Parrot). The collection is housed in a custom-made cabinet made of Queensland Maple. There is an entire drawer dedicated to magpie eggs showing quite a variety of colours and sizes.
Hi Martin and thankyou for your enquiry. We have contacted the Ornithology Collection Manager and he has advised that it is not unusual for magpies, and many other species, to breed more than once a year depending on the date of the first brood and seasonal conditions.
Hello Shirley! Magpies have learnt that living near people is to their advantage. They know how to avoid potentially dangerous children yet remain close to a source of food. They have a territory that they defend strongly and nest regularly in local trees although they may not have young each year. Their home territory can vary from 2 to 20 hectares and areas of lawn/grass are fiercely defended. Perhaps your birds have been seen by neighbours and are ranging a bit further as the young mature.
Hi Alan - the Australian Magpie and all species of Butcherbirds (all from the genus Cracticus) are native to Australasia; the fossil record for birds of this size isn't extensive due to the bones being so small and fragile as to not preserve well as fossils.
Having said this, the oldest confirmed fossil record of the current living species of magpie Cracticus tibicen is over 50, 000 years old, but the ancestral lineage is highly likely to be far older, stretching millions of years prior.
Australian Magpies (Cracticus tibicen) have a complex social structure that acts to bind the group together and to defend it against predators and against other magpie groups that may hold adjacent territories. The social structure also operates within the group, and the behaviour you describe as bullying may be play-learning by young individuals, which can include jumping on each other (or being jumped on by adults) in mock fighting, and chasing each other and pulling other magpies down to the ground. Adults often join in enthusiastically with juveniles. Within any group of birds (or any other animals for that matter) exist individuals with varying levels of aggression or with injuries or other incapacities that make them turn on their group-mates, or may be an individual that requires more food (or just feels that it needs more food). Behaviour such as this is not unusual in species that have complex social structures and random ‘personalities’ between individuals.
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Hi Xavier - we've sent you an email.
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